Government should spell out strategy as to how Malaysia is going to attract the best talents from at home and abroad to ensure the success of a K-economy

Speech - at the Penang DAP Wanita Deepavali reception
by Lim Kit Siang 

(Penang, Sunday): In the 2001 Budget on Friday, Finance Minister, Tun Daim Zainuddin announced its  objective to create a world-class workforce so that  Malaysia will have "a pool of the best talents from at home and abroad" to ensure the country will have a successful  K-economy, namely:

The next day, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad spoke in Hong Kong and urged Malaysians abroad to look home and see how they can contribute towards its economic growth and wealth of the people.

This is a welcome change to past government attitude, particularly in the seventies and eighties, condemning  Malaysians who had emigrated abroad as "unpatriotic, disloyal and anti-national" and dismissing them as "good riddance to bad rubbish".

However, the government has not spelt out any strategy as to how the  objective to attract the best brains at home and abroad could be achieved, as even the incentives announced in the 2001 budget is unlikely to be very attractive to encourage skilled Malaysians working abroad to return home.

The government should announce targets as to how many "high-tech" foreign professionals from "Bangalore to California" it seeks to recruit for next year and next few years; the number of skilled Malaysians it targets to encourage to return home; while at the same time, spelling out measures which are taken to check the brain-drain of IT professionals which are currently taking place in the country.

Singapore is recruiting tens of thousands of high-tech workers from Malaysia  and has the biggest number of Malaysian IT professionals working in any country overseas.

It will be a good test of whether the incentives announced by Daim in the 2001 Budget is adequate to encourage the return of skilled Malaysians from abroad to build up the Malaysian K-economy.  Is Daim confident enough about his incentives as to announce how many Malaysian high-tech professionals in Singapore he expected to influence to return from across the causeway?

Parliament should debate what are the conditions which would have the greatest impact in influencing the return of skilled Malaysians working overseas - whether it is solely material or whether other factors like job satisfaction, good governance, democratic environment would be equally important considerations.

The government should be aware that Malaysia would be competing with the most highly-developed IT nations for the  world’s best high-tech professionals.

In May this year, the German Foreign Minister Joschka Fisher went to Bangalore to vie with other countries like the United States, Japan and Ireland to woo the Indian software professionals, and although the German Government had approved the issue of 20,000 "green cards" to foreign computer specialists, the Indian IT talents still prefer the United States.  Fisher openly admitted that Germany lag 10 years behind the United States.

Early this month, the United States Senate passed a Bill allowing some 600,000  high-tech foreign workers into the country.

How is Malaysia going to compete with United States, Japan, the European Union and the rest of the world for the world’s "best IT brains"?

The government  should quickly realise that there can be no successful K-economy if there is no K-governance, and that there must be a total change of the government’s  mentality and culture before Malaysia can be attractive not only to the best brains abroad but to keep the best Malaysian talents at home, or the ambition for Malaysia to  take  the quantum leap into the information age would fall far short of its goal.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman